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BENEDICT


439


BENEDICT


is always free to depart. If, after twelve months' probation, he still persevere, he may be admitted to the vows of .Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience, by which he binds himself for life to the monastery of his profession. Ch. lix allows the admission of boys to the monastery mider certain conditions. Ch. Ix regulates the position of priests who may desire to join the community. They are charged with setting an example of humility to all, and can only exercise their priestlv functions by permission of the abbot. Ch. Ixi pro\-ides for the reception of strange monks as guests, and for their admission if desirous of joining the community. Ch. Ixii empowers the abbot to choose certain of his monks for ordination, which, however, shall not give them any higher rank in the community, unless f)erchanee they be promoted for special merit. Ch. Ixiii lays down that precedence in the community shall be determined by the date of admission, merit of hfe, or the appointment of the abbot. Ch. Ixiv orders that the abbot be elected by his monks and that he be chosen for his charity, zeal, and discretion. Ch. Ixv allows the appointment of a provost, or prior, if need be, but warns such a one that he is to be entirely subject to the abbot and may be ad- monished, deposed, or expelled for misconduct. Ch. lx\-i provides for the appointment of a porter, and recommends that each monastery should be, if possible, self-contained, so as to avoid the need of intercourse with the outer world. Ch. Ixvii gives instructions as to the beha\-iour of a monk who is sent on a journey. Ch. Ixviii orders that all shall cheerfully attempt to do whatever is commanded them, however hard it may seem. Ch. Ixix forbids the monks to defend one another. Ch. Ixx prohibits them from striking one another. Ch. Ixxi encourages the brethren to be obedient not only to the abbot and his officials, but also to one another. Ch. Ixxii is a brief exhortation to zeal and fraternal charity; and Ch. Ixxiii is an epilogue declaring that this Rule is not offered as an ideal of j)erfection, but merely as a means towards godliness and is intended chiefly for beginners in the spiritual life.

Characteristics of the Rule. — In considering the leading characteristics of this Holy Rule, the first that must strike the reader is its wonderful discretion and moderation, its extreme reasonableness, and its keen insight into the capabilities as well as the weaknesses of human nature. Here are no excesses, no extraordinarj' asceticism, no narrow-mindedness, but rather a series of sober regulations based upon sound common-sense. We see these qualities dis- played in the deliberate elimination of austerities and in concessions made with regard to what the monks of Egj-pt would have looked upon as luxuries. A few comparisons between the customs of these latter and the prescriptions of St. Benedict's Rule will serve to bring out more clearly the extent of his changes in this direction.

With regard to food, the Egj-ptian ascetics reduced it to a minimum, many of them eating only twice or thrice in the week, whilst Cassian describes a meal consisting of parched vetches with salt and oil, three olives, two prunes, and a fig, as a "sumptuous repast" (Coll. viii, 1). St. Benedict, on the other hand, though he restricts the use of fiesh-meat to the sick, orders a pound of bread daily and two dishes of cooked food at each meal, of which there were two in summer and one in winter. And he concedes also an allowance of wine, though admitting that it should not properly be the drink of monks (Ch. xl). As to clothing. St. Benedict's provision that habits were to fit, to be sufficiently warm, and not too old, was in great contrast to the poverty of the Egj-ptian monks, whose clothes. Abbot Pambo laid down, should be so poor that if left on the road no one would be tempted to take them (Apophthegmata,


in P. G., LXV, 369). In the matter of sleep, whereas the solitaries of Egj'pt regarded its diminution as one of their most valued forms of austerity, St. Benedict ordered from six to eight hours of unbroken sleep- a day. ^\-ith the addition of a siesta in summer. The Egj-ptian monks, moreover, frequently slept on the bare ground, with stones or mats for pillows, and often even sitting or merely reclining, as directed in the Pachomian Rule, whilst Abbot John was imable to mention ^\-ithout siiame the finding of a blanket in a hermit's cell (Cassian, Coll. xix, 6). St. Benedict, however, allowed not only a blanket but also a coverlet, a mattress, and a pillow to each monk. This comparative liberality ^\-ith regard to the necessaries of life, though plain and meagre perhaps, if tested by modem notions of comfort, was far greater than amongst the Italian poor of the sixth centurj' or even amongst many of the European peasantry at the present day. St. Bene- dict's aim seems to have been to keep the bodies, of his monks in a healthy condition by means of proper clothing, sufficient food, and ample sleep, so that they might thereby be more fit for the due performance of the Divine Office and be freed from all that distracting rivalry in asceticism which has already been mentioned. There was, however, no desire to lower the ideal or to minimize the self- sacrifice that the adoption of the monastic life en- tailed, but rather the intention of bringing it into line with the altered circumstances of Western en- vironment, which necessarily differed much from those of Egypt and the East. The wisdom and skill vdth which he did this is e^^dent in every page of the Rule, so much so that Bossuet was able to call it "an epitome of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgment of all the doctrines of the Gospel, all the institutions of the Fathers, and all the Counsels of Perfection".

St. Benedict perceived the necessity for a perma- nent and uniform rule of government in place of the arbitrary and variable choice of models fur- nished by the lives and maxims of the Fathers of the Desert. And so we have the characteristic of collectivism, exhibited in his insistence on the com- mon life, as opposed to the individualism of the Egj-ptian monks. One of the objects he had in view in writing his Rule was the extirpation of the Sara- baifes and Gyrovagi, whom he so strongly condemns in his first chapter and of whose evil lives he had probably had painful experience during his early daj's at Subiaco. To further this aim he introduced the vow of Stability, which became the guarantee of success and permanence. It is only another example of the family idea that pervades the entire Rule, by means of which the members of the com- munity are bound together by a family tie, and each takes upon himself the obligation of persevering in his monastery until death, unless sent elsewhere by his superiors. It secures to the commimity as a whole, and to every member of it individually, a share in all the fruits that may arise from the labours of each monk, and it gives to each of them that strength and vitality which necessarily result from being one of a united family, all bound in a similar way and all pursuing the same end. Thus, whatever the monk does, he does it not as an independent individual but as part of a larger organization, and the community itself thus becomes one united whole rather than a mere agglomeration of independent members. The Vow of Conversion of Life indicates the personal striving after perfection that must be the aim of every Benedictine monk. All the legis- lation of the Rule, the constant repression of self, the conforming of one's everj- action to a definite standard, and the continuance of this form of life to the end of one's daj's. is directed towards "putting off the old man and putting on the new", and thereby